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PAKISTANI officials welcome a pilot and passengers after the British Airways flight landed at the Islamabad International Airport.—AFP
PAKISTANI officials welcome a pilot and passengers after the British Airways flight landed at the Islamabad International Airport.—AFP

ISLAMABAD: British Airways (BA) restarted its services in Pakistan after an 11-year pause on Monday.

BA Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s flight BAW-261 carrying 240 passengers landed in Islamabad at 9:15am as the airline began its operation which had been suspended since 2008 following the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in the capital.

The launch of the thrice-a-week service from London’s Heathrow Airport to Islamabad International Airport was welcomed by British and Pakistani officials, all saying it would boost tourism, trade and business.

Some of the passengers who travelled in the flight said it was a pleasant journey and would prefer the airline when travelling to Islamabad. Another said that the resumption of the service will be “convincing for Pakistani expatriates”.

Britain is said to be home to more than a million people of Pakistan origin, making it the largest Pakistani diaspora community in Europe.

Top British Airways official says airline decided to resume operations due to increasing demand and improved security situation

“Today is a great occasion for the British Airways as it resumed flights to Islamabad after a decade. The atmosphere on board our state-of-the-art 787 aircraft was spectacular, as was the warm welcome on the ground,” Chief Commercial Officer British Airways Andrew Brem, who was also on board the first flight, said at a press conference.

He said the airline decided to resume operations due to increasing demand and the improved security situation in Pakistan. “The priority for us is to fly where our passengers want to go and we absolutely had a demand to travel to Islamabad.”

“With British Airways’ new direct service between London and Islamabad, Britain’s flag carrier is back. The two countries, already so close in so many ways, take a step closer,” said British High Commissioner to Pakistan Andrew Drew, in a statement.

“The British Airways is the first European airline to return to Pakistan for more than 10 years,” he added. “Welcome back, there is a great improvement in security situation in Pakistan.”

“The links between Britain and Pakistan are already extraordinary from commerce, cricket and culture to people, politics and education,” Mr Drew added. “This launch is a vote of confidence in the future of those links.”

He further stated “British Airways has a proud history of flying to Pakistan — we first operated flights to Islamabad in 1976 — and we couldn’t be more excited to be back.”

UK’s international trade secretary Dr Liam Fox MP said in a statement: “The re-launch of British Airways flights between the UK and Pakistan after more than ten years will be a major boost for trade between our two countries ...We are confident that British Airways will act as a catalyst to bring even more British companies to one of the world’s largest markets.”

“With this kind of connectivity that we now have, British investors will find it so easy, Pakistani diaspora will find it very easy, our own exporters, our own business people will now have a great connectivity of going from here to London,” said Advisor to the Prime Minister on Commerce, Textile, Industry & Investment Abdul Razak Dawood.

Federal Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan welcomed the initiative and claimed that other foreign airlines were also planning to resume their flight operations in Pakistan after seeing a conducive business environment and improved security situation within the country.

In a series of tweets, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan wrote that resumption of British Airways’ flights to Pakistan reflects world’s confidence in ‘Naya’ Pakistan and its government. “Resumption of flight operations shows that Pakistan is moving towards development,” she tweeted.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also welcomed British Airways resumption of flights to Pakistan and according to a statement said it would help tourism sector in the country and would also send out positive signals for greater trade and investment.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2019